PHILOSOPHY: HOW LEARNING BEST OCCURS
Learning in middle school occurs best through varied opportunities for interaction around difficult topics. From these opportunities should emerge thoughtful discussions and, ultimately, changes in people's habits of mind. Learning through collaboration leads to a deeper understanding of knowledge. When ideas are shared it allows students to hear multiple perspectives and in turn come to a renewed understanding of the topic at hand. Collaborative projects further create a sense of interdependence between adolescents who are struggling to get along and feel confident being who they are. Group projects can bring out the voice of silent students and capitalize on the strengths of all students.
Learning in middle school occurs best when students are actively engaged in the learning process. Students ought to be provided with opportunities to draw from their personal experiences to make logical connections with academic content. The prevalence of youth-centered media and technology means that students are internalizing information in new and ever-changing ways. In order to keep middle school students engaged in school, pedagogical practices must be stimulating and not incredibly different from how students retain non-academic funds of knowledge. That’s not to say that these funds of knowledge are not part of academic knowledge. Rather, it occurs when we capitalize on the family’s contributions to academic knowledge. In addition, media and technology must be put in the hands of students so that they are not merely receptacles of information and new knowledge, but creators as well.
Learning in middle school occurs best when students understand the relevance of material taught, are having fun, are engaged, and enjoy coming to school. For learning to happen well, students must feel supported, be comfortably challenged, and see a connection between what they are learning and their future. Students should be able to express themselves and should receive tailored instruction and support in situations where their weaknesses show
The following general guidelines outline the principles New LA uses to run a high quality middle school with a diverse population.
PASSION FOR LEARNING (RIGOR)
- Standards-Based Curriculum: The curriculum at New LA is fully aligned with the California State Content Standards.
- Academic Excellence: New LA establishes a culture of high expectations and nurturing accountability for all students.
- Accountability: Every single member of the school community is fully accountable for their role in the success of the school. Each individual sees themselves both as unique and infinitely valuable and a member of a larger whole. All students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and board members take responsibility for the educational and environmental aspects of New LA.
- Professional Educators: Teachers hired by New LA are upstanding, credentialed, and successful professionals, and are treated as such. The school treats teachers with respect, and demonstrates that respect through fairness, professional development, flexibility to innovate, and valuing each person individually.
ENGAGEMENT IN THE COMMUNITY (RELEVANCE)
- Social Justice Themes: A cornerstone of the New LA experience is the exposure and exploration of social justice themes. This exploration is woven into the humanities and arts curriculum where appropriate and takes place in advisory groups, assemblies, and through community service. The social justice themes expose students to real life learning opportunities and will make their school experience relevant.
- Community Engagement: Students at New LA are involved in community service, interacting with and helping to improve their local and global communities.
RESPECT FOR SELF AND OTHERS (RELATIONSHIPS & RESPECT)
- Small Class Size: New LA believes that small class size is a key to academic success and student self worth. With small classes, students have individual attention and will be treated as a people rather than numbers. Small class size is respectful to teachers and students alike.
- Differentiated and Individualized Instruction: New LA recruits teachers who have demonstrated success with differentiated instruction, and the school uses professional development time to further develop these skills. Classes at New LA are truly diverse, therefore necessitating careful differentiated instruction. The diverse classrooms provide a dynamic and challenging setting, allowing for teachers and students to focus on academic rigor while at the same time building relationships and fostering respect for differences.
- Advisory Program: Advisory is comprised of a group of students and one teacher. The role of advisory group and advisors at New LA is to use the four mission-based “R’s” to help students succeed academically, thrive in and out of school, plan for the future, and develop their own unique voice and leadership skills. Three main types of activities make up the advisory curriculum: current events, community building and peer support, academic support and time-management, and personal reflection and goal-setting.
- Environment of Trust and Respect: New LA strives to build an environment of trust and respect. This includes how teachers treat students, how students treat teachers, how the administration treats teachers and parents and staff, how the teachers and staff treat parents, and how parents treat the school. In short, every single member of the school community should be treated with respect and kindness, showing how valuable each individual person is. With such modeling, students will come away with a powerful demonstration of respect and relationships at work.
At New Los Angeles Charter School, we employ a variety of teaching methodologies. We believe that there is no one best way for students to learn. Rather, varied approaches offer the greatest likelihood of engaging students and improving outcomes. New LA incorporates active learning methods to deliver a rigorous standards-based curriculum.
We make use of student-centered classroom teaching methodologies such as Project-Based Learning, Cooperative Learning, Literature Circles/Book Clubs, Inquiry-Based Teaching, and Reciprocal Teaching. These methodologies are flexible, allowing teachers to adjust in class. They are also designed to be effective across the curriculum and lend themselves to excellent interdisciplinary opportunities.